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Whibley Leads Yamaha 1-2 At Nationals

 

MAY 19, 2015: Thirteen years is a long time to wait, but it was worth it.

Pahiatua's Paul Whibley has nothing left to prove on the cross-country racing scene, having twice won the Grand National Cross-country Championships (GNCC) in the United States, in 2009 and 2012, and the Yamaha rider has been a record six-time winner of the Off-road Motorcycle and ATV (OMA) series in the US as well.

He last won a national cross-country titles in New Zealand over a decade ago, winning back-to-back national titles at home in 2001 and 2002, just before he left to forge a successful international racing career in Europe and the US.

Now settled back in New Zealand, he returned to the domestic Kiwi race scene at the start of this season and immediately set about trying to restore his position at the top of the sport here.

After an initial setback, when he was beaten across the finish line by defending national cross-country champion and fellow Yamaha rider Adrian Smith at the first of four rounds in the 2015 series back in February, he started a win streak that stretched until the final round near Pahiatua on Sunday, earning him the title, a full 13 years after he'd last uplifted the Kiwi crown.

The 36-year-old, known affectionately by his fans as rivals as "The Axeman", led from the start of Sunday's race at Waitawhiti Station, about 40 kilometres east of Pahiatua.

Whibley and Mokau's Smith had traded wins throughout the season, Whibley finishing 2-1-1 and Smith 1-2-2 at the previous rounds and so Sunday's final three-hour battle was a winner-takes-all affair.

When Smith suffered bike problems and was forced out of the race early on Sunday, it was an anti-climax for fans and the pressure was off for Whibley.

He was able to cruise to the win, although, despite appearances, it actually wasn't an easy ride for him on Sunday.

"I lost where the track went about midway through lap one and lost about 15 places," he explained.

He was quickly on the charge again, however, and has recovered his position at the front before the end of the first 24-kilometre lap.

"I had a  crash on the second lap too, and I hit a dirt bank. The crash knocked off one of my hand-guards and I lost my goggles. I quickly picked myself up and worked hard to make a gap over the chasing pack. With a clear track in front of me, the lack of goggles wasn't too much of a problem."

The eventual final finish order for the three-hour senior race was Whibley, followed several minutes behind by Hamilton's Andrew Charleston and Rotorua's Scotty Birch.

Despite failing to finish the race, Smith had done enough at the earlier rounds anyway to clinch the No.2 spot for the championship, making it a Yamaha 1-2, and that was always going to be the case because, even before the start of Sunday's race, neither of these men could be unseated from the top rankings.

Both leading riders Whibley and Smith are supported by Yamaha-Motor New Zealand, BikesportNZ.com and Workshop Graphics.

Words and photo by Andy McGechan, www.BikesportNZ.com